FIREBOUND

Author's Note: Sooo… you'll notice that this is not, in fact, the next chapter of Freefalling. That's because this new story would absolutely not leave me along until I finished writing it. I tried to ignore it, I really did. Hopefully you'll like this fic, too. On the bright side, this is complete, so you won't have to worry about me not finishing it! (Yay!) It's about 60k words in total, but I'm editing as I go, so I'll probably post them over the course of a couple months.

This is something a little different, and it was inspired a little by the fic imPerfect Love, which got me interested in the character of Jared, and also in writing something a little darker. I also liked having a different deviation point (Eclipse timeline rather than New Moon timeline) than a lot of fics.

Though I think it will be obvious from early on, the key deviation before this fic begins is that Jared never imprinted on Kim, and that fact impacts his character and decisions, both before this fic begins and going forward. Otherwise everything else is the same up until the aftermath of the newborn battle.

Also, please forgive any timeline discrepancies on the events of Eclipse! I already know there are a few, but I didn't really want to go back and read it to make sure the events match up perfectly timeline-wise. If there's anything I can easily fix that's annoying you, feel free to let me know, and anything that isn't fixable just take as authorial license. :)

On that note, enjoy!


CHAPTER ONE

As Edward and Seth destroyed what remained of Victoria's body, Bella's heart felt like it was being split in two.

Jacob Jacob Jacob.

He was hurt. Because of her.

She hated herself for that. It seemed like every day she managed to find a new way to hurt her best friend.

Once nothing recognizable was left in the flames, Edward turned to her, where she was standing numbly in the middle of the clearing. Concern filled his eyes as he reached for a bandage, but Bella pushed his hands aside. He obligingly let them fall to his side, though of course only because he let her.

Before he'd left her he never would have allowed her even to make the decision to remain hurt on her own. She was grateful for that, as ridiculous as it seemed to be grateful to be allowed to make her own decisions. Even if they were ridiculous, they were hers.

"No," she said sharply. "Take me to Jake. Now."

"Bella," Edward said gently. "They're about to take him away, back to La Push."

She didn't care. "Then move fast."

He examined her expression, and then finally nodded, his face grim. He would never understand what Jake meant to her. She didn't care. She didn't need him to understand; she just needed him to help her.

She was suddenly moving through the forest, faster than Edward had ever carried her before. The open wound on her arm throbbed as the rushing cold wind hit it, but she welcomed the sensation. Jake was in pain. This was the smallest price possible, to feel a fraction of the pain she knew he must feel.

If she could have done it, she wondered what price she would have paid to save him. She had been the source, after all, breaking his heart in not exactly one fell swoop, but in little pieces as she fought her own building love for him and ultimately made the decision she thought maybe she always knew she would make.

If she could go back and chosen to walk away from Edward when they'd first met, could she have done it? Was Jacob's happiness, or even his life, worth more than her life with Edward?

She thought it probably was, but she wasn't sure what to do with that conclusion. She didn't deserve Jake. She'd always thought that, but now she was certain.

Edward set her on her feet before she realized they had reached the clearing. Her eyes immediately shot to Jake's crumpled human form on the ground. He was writhing in pain as Sam, Leah, and Embry knelt around him, and Bella felt her chest clench in reflected agony.

Edward stepped away from her and turned to Alice, whose expression was tense with concern. A little girl who was clearly a newborn vampire was standing near Esme uncertainly. Bella could tell from Alice's lips moving that she was speaking, but it was too quiet for Bella to hear. Bella hated it when the Cullens did that.

Jake groaned, and her attention was instantaneously back on him. "Jake," she gasped.

He and the other pack members were crouched at the edge of the forest, and she tripped over a tree root as she ran toward him. Her hands flew out automatically, bracing for impact with years of experience.

But before her knees could hit the ground, a strong hand was clasped around her upper arm, pulling her easily back upright. His skin was so hot she could feel it through her long-sleeved shirt.

She glanced up in surprise, and it took her a heartbeat to recognize Jared, the wolf she had seen the least since the day she'd met the pack.

He was staring down at her, concern in his deep hazel eyes. She had a sudden, shocking sense of realization that while she thought Jake was the most beautiful boy in the pack, Jared was undeniably the most handsome.

"Thanks, Jared," she said softly after too long a pause. She was utterly disgusted with herself for thinking of him like that, with the two men she loved not each fifty feet away from her.

His hand was still on her arm, and she couldn't bring herself to pull away. She didn't really want to. Something about the way he was looking at her made her stomach twist oddly, like her world was sort of shifting around her. Jared's eyes were trained on her face, and he opened his mouth—

—and Jacob cried out again loudly, agony clear in his voice.

Wrenching her arm free from Jared, Bella turned and sprinted toward Jake, ignoring the odd feeling of discomfort pulling away from Jared brought her. Guilt for being rude, she thought. But she was sure Jared would understand.

Jake's cry had clearly come because Carlisle was kneeling next to him now, gently tracing the skin on top of the bones on his legs, ribcage, and arms that were clearly broken. Bella fought down a wave of nausea at the sight of the bulges under his skin.

"Oh, Jake," she said helplessly. She pushed between Sam and Leah, not caring if they were annoyed with her, and knelt beside her best friend's head. She stroked a lock of hair off of his sweaty forehead. It was getting long again; she needed to cut it.

One day soon she wouldn't be able to do simple things like that for Jake ever again. She'd be dead to him.

His eyes fluttered open. "Bells," he muttered. "Are you okay?"

Her eyes filled with tears. Always thinking of her.

Leah grumbled something next to her that she couldn't make out, but Bella probably didn't want to.

"Yeah, Jake," she said, choking down a sob. "But you aren't."

"He will heal," Carlisle murmured, meeting Bella's gaze sympathetically, as if she were the one hurt. "But it will be painful."

His eyes moved past her across Jake's prone form to Sam, and the other man nodded grimly.

Then Alice's sharp, clear voice cut across them all. "Two minutes, Carlisle!" she said urgently.

Everyone else seemed to know what Alice was talking about, and Sam, Embry, and Quil lifted Jake's body easily among them. "I will be there as soon as I can finish this," Carlisle told the boys quietly. "You must leave, though. We must not have the Volturi seeing you."

Sam nodded, and Carlisle reached into his pocket and handed Sam a car key. "He needs to stay as still as possible," Carlisle said. "Driving him will be best."

Sam hesitated, and then finally nodded. "Quil, Embry, Seth, take him home. The rest of us will stay back to observe."

Bella finally found her voice. "I'm going, too."

Multiple pairs of eyes fixated on her, and Edward hurried to her, stopping a few feet from her as the wolves around her started growling softly. He shot them a disgusted look. "Bella, surely you can see Jacob later," he said pleadingly to her. "There's nothing you can do for Jacob right now. He needs time to heal."

As if he truly cared about Jake's well-being and not just keeping her away from him.

"Bella, I'm not sure that's wise," Carlisle added. "Jane and the others are almost here."

She held up her arm. The bleeding from the gash had slowed to a trickle, but thick trails of blood covered her skin from her inner elbow to her wrist. She was surprised to feel no nausea upon seeing it. There were too many more important things to focus on.

"Tell them I was hurt and had to leave," she said. "It's not a lie. They're going to know from my blood that I'm human still, anyway."

She caught a brief flash of surprise on Edward's face. He hadn't expected her to argue. But she didn't waver. She needed to be there for Jake, to be with the wolves right now.

Edward looked like he was about to protest again, but she glanced at Sam, whose permission was the only one she actually needed.

"Go, then," Sam told her. "But go now."

Bella nodded and without looking back jogged after the other boys as they carried Jake toward Carlisle's SUV that she could see parked not far away, keeping her eyes on the ground so she didn't trip again.

She felt before she saw someone stepping forward to meet her and knew it would be Jared before she glanced sideways at him.

He handed her a small plastic square. She looked down to see it was a wound astringent. "To clean it," he said unnecessarily, gesturing to her arm. His eyes were intense again as she stared up at him, and she had that odd feeling again of losing track of time while they stared at each other.

Then Sam was calling sharply for the rest of the pack to phase and return to the woods. Bella jolted out of her daze, reluctantly dragging her eyes away from Jared. Before she could think of something to say to fill the silence, the wolf gave her one last unreadable look, and then turned and jogged back toward the forest.

Embry had already shifted the SUV into drive when she ran the rest of the way toward it and threw open the back door. Seth had somehow managed to squeeze himself into the back row, so Bella slid into the middle row where Jake was curled up and gently lifted his head and rested it in her lap as she sat down.

"Bells," he whispered hoarsely again, staring up at her with unfocused eyes. She rested her hand on his cheek and noticed that his skin felt even hotter than usual.

"Jake, shh," she said as Embry peeled out on the road. She bit down on a gasp as the tires squealed, reminding herself that they had werewolf reflexes. "We're taking you home."

Jake nodded and closed his eyes again, seemingly exhausted from their simple conversation.

"What'd Jared give you, Bells?" Quil asked, twisting around in the passenger seat to look at her.

"Oh." She twisted to pull the little plastic packet out of her jeans and held it up to him.

Quil blinked in surprise. "Did he go to the leeches to get that?" he asked.

She paused in fumbling it open. How had he gotten it? It wasn't like the wolves carried first aid kits around with them while they were phased. "I don't know. I guess."

Embry hit a pothole in the dirt road, and Quil's attention returned to the road. Jake groaned. "Sorry, Jake, sorry," Embry said apologetically.

Bella wiped her arm clean with the gauze, hissing as the cut stung. With the blood gone she saw that she'd made a deep gouge with the stone a good six inches long. It probably needed stitches, but she hoped she could find some butterfly bandages to hold it together.

Quil whistled. "Damn, girl. That had to hurt."

She glanced down at Jake's drawn, pained expression. "Not enough," she said softly. She wished she could switch places with him.

The ache in her chest that had been hurting ever since she saw Jake hurt stayed with her.

She had an odd moment of clarity when she realized she suddenly knew the moment they crossed over the border into La Push. It felt… right to be here. Maybe spending enough time around supernatural creatures was giving her a supernatural ability of her own. Even if her power was a little lame.

"You stayed," Jake told her blearily as the first houses on the edge of the rez came in sight, blinking his eyes open from where he had been dozing. "I didn't think you would."

She felt keenly aware of the three other people in car with them. "Jake," she said hesitantly. "I don't want you to think —"

"I know, Bells," he said. He could always read her mind like no one else could. Her mind might have been closed off to Edward, but it had always been readable to Jake. "But I'm still glad you're here."

"I couldn't leave you like that," she said, and that same sense of certainty came back. She'd always felt a strong tie to La Push, but now it seemed like it had almost become part of her soul, or to being part of the park, even as peripheral as it was. Maybe just knowing she had come so close to losing Jake forever made her pay more attention to the fact that she had ties to the pack, not just to the Cullens.

"We're almost there, Jake," Embry said as he turned onto the short dead end that led to the Blacks' house. Quil jumped out, and Bella watched him jog to the front door and let himself inside. He propped the door open as Embry shifted into park and Bella opened her door.

"Billy's here, he said to take him to his room," Quil reported. Bella hurriedly slid out of her seat to get out of their way, and Seth scrambled out after her.

"Can you clear our path, Bells?" Embry asked.

Glad to have something to do other than dance around Jake, who had gone pale at being moved again, she nodded and moved to the front door.

Billy was just out of the way of the front door, his lips pressed together. "Hi, Billy," she said weakly as she stepped inside.

"Bella. How is he?" His voice was tight with worry.

"He's in pain, but he'll be fine," she said. She hoped she was right. "Carlisle…" she almost didn't want to tell him, but Billy was going to find out soon enough, and he deserved to know what was going to happen to his son. "Carlisle's going to have to re-break his bones," she said quietly.

Billy closed his eyes and nodded.

Feeling that same rush of guilt that she had felt so often since meeting the wolves, Bella turned away with relief when she heard the others discussing how to best carry Jake out of the car, and she hurried down the hall to make sure the way to Jake's room was clear.

The Blacks' house had been fairly cluttered ever since Jake's mom had died, and Bella grabbed a couple of boxes and dirty clothes in the hallway as she walked, and then pushed open the door to Jake's room and propped it open with his desk chair. His bed wasn't made, and she smoothed down the sheets to make a flat surface, knowing he wasn't going to need blankets. She was dropping another pair of shorts on his floor into his laundry hamper when she heard heavy footsteps coming down the hallway.

Quil, Embry, and Seth came in, holding Jake carefully among them, clearly trying to jolt him as little as possible. Bella winced as they laid him down on the bed and he groaned again.

"I'm going to see if Sam's bringing the doctor yet," Quil said. Bella remembered him joking endlessly when she'd first met him through Jake. He looked like he'd grown up even more in the past few months than Jake had.

Bella nodded, though he wasn't looking at any of them. She knelt down in front of Jake, and his eyes focused on her.

"You okay, Bells?" he asked her.

She shook her head. If she opened her mouth she knew she would start crying. She hadn't had any time to process the fact that Victoria was gone, that she had watched her corpse burn, that her dad and the rez were going to be safe from the red-haired vampire forever.

She also hadn't allowed herself any time to process the fact that she had pushed Edward away without thought, that she'd gone with the wolves without so much as glancing back at him and left them to deal with the Volturi without her.

It's Edward's fault the Volturi know about me, anyway, a small, vicious part of her thought.

She didn't regret coming. It felt right to be here. In fact, she had been feeling even more sure of that over the past few minutes, as if she was adjusting to and embracing the feeling.

"Bells, look at me," Jake said. Blinking back tears, she did, taking in his beautiful dark eyes and almost girlish eyelashes, his perfect, flawless rich skin. He was clearly still in pain, but beyond that there was deep fondness, affection, love. She was relieved that she didn't see the same wildfire that had blazed in his eyes before she'd kissed him.

His eyebrows furrowed slightly as he examined her, looking like he was seeking something he wasn't quite finding. After a moment she saw his eyes flicker to Embry, standing a few feet away from them.

"Em, does something feel diff—"

He cut off suddenly, and all three boys turned to the door. A few seconds later, Carlisle stepped in with a large bag. "Jacob, are you ready to begin?" He glanced at Bella and gave her a small smile. At least he wasn't mad at her for leaving the fight with Jake.

Sam stopped in the doorway behind Carlisle. "Bella," Jake said to him. "Please, get her—"

"I'm going," Bella told him, rising. He wouldn't want her to be there for this, but she wasn't going to go far. As Sam stepped aside to let her pass, she decided to cook something, just so she had something to do until she was allowed back in to see Jake.

To her surprise, Sam followed her to the kitchen. She stopped as she pulled open the pantry door and turned to look at him questioningly, too exhausted to try to be more discreet.

The Alpha of the pack had always been intimidating to her. He was the most heavily muscled, and at six-and-a-half feet, taller than everyone else in the pack, though Jake might catch up with him soon. All that plus too many months of building him up in her head to be a gang leader before she and Jake had known about the pack probably didn't help her general impression of him.

She wondered if he was going to try to kick her out. Jake had said he was technically the Chief of the tribe now, so he probably had the right. "Do you want something to eat?" she asked uncertainly, hoping that might buy her some time before he told her to leave.

His lips quirked. "Sure. Thanks." Nodding, she turned to the pantry, surveying her options, and then checked the fridge. There was dried pasta, and she thought there was enough ground meat and tomato sauce to make meatballs.

Sam leaned against the counter, and she wondered if he was going to watch her cook the whole time.

"The leeches from Italy were asking about you," he said after a couple minute of silence.

She jumped and almost dropped the packet of ground meat. "They want me to be turned," she said listlessly. Right now it was hard to think about becoming a vampire. It was just too far removed from the reality she was inhabiting right now.

He nodded, looking thoughtful, and didn't say anything else. When she'd gotten all the ingredients together she looked around for a mixing bowl, and Sam wordlessly reached over her head to the top shelf of the cabinet and pulled one down.

"And you want to?" he asked abruptly. "Be turned?"

"I don't know, Sam," she said, feeling off-balance. "I can't really think about that right now."

Again he didn't follow-up her response, and her words lingered in the room, at least to her mind.

I don't know, she'd said.

Not yes.

She was just stressed, that was all. Seeing her best friend almost die would do that to anyone. Once she returned to the Cullens all of her certainty would resurface.

She opened the refrigerator and reached for the jar of marinara sauce she could see all the way at the back. As she twisted her hand, her inner arm grazed the hard cardboard edge of a six-pack of Raniers, and the motion and the contact combined to tear her cut half open again. Gasping in pain, she pulled her arm back and watched as blood started welling up again, fighting down her automatic rush of queasiness at the sight.

"Shit," Sam said and reached past her to the opposite counter to grab a paper towel and press it to her arm. "He couldn't find you a bandage?"

Bella frowned down at the paper towel that was darkening with her blood. Why would Sam have paid attention to her ten-second interaction with his packmate on a day when they had had to fight vampires to the death?

"Guess not," she muttered, holding the paper towel against the cut until the wound scabbed over again.

He didn't say anything else, and a few minutes later Seth joined them, begging Bella to give him something to do in the kitchen. The kitchen wasn't exactly well stocked, but she found a box of cornbread mix in the far reaches of the pantry and handed it to him to make. The three of them were silent apart from Seth asking her for clarifications on the baking instructions.

Sam had just handed her an oven mitt to pull the tray of meatballs out of the oven when Carlisle emerged from Jake's room. If a vampire had ever looked tired, it was how Carlisle looked now.

Sam walked over to meet him in the middle of the living room. "It's done," Carlisle said. "I've left him hydrocodone tablets, but he'll burn through them rapidly. He should be able to handle two every half hour."

Sam nodded. "Thank you," he said stiffly.

Carlisle inclined his head in response and turned a small smile on Bella. "Would you like me to take you home now, Bella?"

"No, thank you," she replied immediately. She wouldn't leave the reservation until she knew everyone in the pack was safe. "I need to stay here."

If Carlisle was surprised, she couldn't see any sign of it. "Is there anything you'd like me to tell Edward?" he asked.

She paused, and then shook her head. Edward should know why she had left with Jake. There was nothing else to say. She knew he disagreed with her decision, and he probably wouldn't be happy with her for a while, but this was one of the few areas in her life that she didn't care about his opinion on. "I'll be back home tomorrow, as long as Jake is better by then," she told him.

Carlisle nodded to her, inclined his head to the rest of them, and turned to go. Bella wondered if she should feel guilty for not leaving with Carlisle, but she couldn't seem to bring herself to. Where guilt at disappointing Edward would normally be was the more important conviction that she was exactly where she needed to be.

Embry joined them in the kitchen a few minutes later, his eyes tired. "Jake wants to talk to you, Bells," he said.

She nodded and reached for tongs. "Just a sec, I'll bring him a plate." She scooped the spaghetti and meatballs onto five plates and handed them out to the men hovering around the kitchen.

They looked faintly surprised as they took the plates. Surely they had seen in Jake's memories how often she cooked. Maybe the difference was that this was the first time she'd cooked for them.

She cringed at the realization of how focused she had been on the Cullens, ever since Edward had come back with her from Italy. If she was changed, she'd never be able to spend time with the pack like this again. She would never need to cook again.

She grabbed the fifth plate and walked down the hall to find Jake. He was sitting half upright on his bed with a pillow bracing his back, and he looked like he'd sweated entirely through his clothes.

"Please say that's for me, Bells," he begged as she walked through the door.

She gave him a small grin. "What's in it for me?"

"Eternal gratitude?"

She couldn't stop herself from flinching at the word, and Jake's smile faded as she handed him the plate. She couldn't quite meet his eyes.

"Bells…" he started, but she shook her head.

"Eat first."

Huffing an exaggerated sigh, he did, taking enormous bites. She was glad to see he had the energy to eat, that the dark bruises that spread across so much of his skin didn't mean he was too weak to move.

"All the newborn vamps are dead," he said once his plate was empty, clearly not willing to be sidetracked. "And the Italian leeches are gone. There's no one trying to hunt you down anymore." He reached out and squeezed her hand. "We don't need the leeches anymore, honey. If you wanted, today could be the last time you ever had to deal with any of them."

She sat down on the end of the bed and rubbed her tired eyes. "Jake, I told you how I feel." She was too bone weary to have this argument with him again.

"No, you told me you loved Edward more. But that's not everything, Bella! If you make the decision to change, you'll lose everyone here forever. And your mom and Charlie. Doesn't everyone else you love count for anything? Hell, I'm not asking you to choose me."

She blinked, surprised. "What do you call what you're doing right now, then?"

"I'm asking you not to choose them," he said simply. "Move in with me, travel abroad, go start a cooking show in L.A. It doesn't matter. But I will get down on my knees and beg right now if that's what it takes for you not to become one of them."

"You'd really be fine with that?" she asked. Not three hours earlier he had definitely been begging her to choose him.

"Yeah," he said. "I really would." She thought she caught the faintest expression of surprise even as he spoke the words, but his tone remained firm. "I mean, I'd obviously rather you were on the rez, even if it wasn't with me, but anything is better than that."

Her throat tightened as she realized that soon she would be losing that option forever. She wasn't going to get exceptions to visit La Push just because Jake had once been her friend. She wouldn't be able to be friends with Jake at all.

She wiped her eyes and slumped against the wall. "I'm too tired to fight any more tonight, Jake," she said.

"Okay," he said after a minute. "That's fine. Are you… will you stay on the rez? You can sleep in the twins' room, it's a mess, but one of the guys can help you clean it up —"

"Bella can stay with Emily and me," Sam said in his deep voice, stepping into the room. "We have a guest bedroom," he added to her.

Jake's eyes flew past her to Sam in barely-concealed surprise. Bella had a hard time keeping her own expression smooth. Maybe Sam hated her less than she'd thought. Or maybe he really liked spaghetti and meatballs.

"You're sure?" she asked him.

"Emily will love to see you," he said, but he was looking past her, to Jake, as if he was trying to communicate something deeper in that simple sentence.

"Okay," Bella said slowly, surprising herself. She wasn't used to letting other people do favors for her. But an actual guest bedroom sounded wonderful compared to a dusty, cluttered room that hadn't been cleaned in at least a couple years.

She wondered if it should feel weird to take Sam up on his offer. Yet she felt much more comfortable with him than she had even a day ago, and she wasn't sure that their talk in the kitchen could really explain all of it. "Thanks, Sam."

She caught the slightest flash of a grin. "Hey, you fed me. Least I can do." He turned to Jake. "I'll have Seth stay here in case you need to get hold of us while we're phased. No shifting for the next twenty-four hours unless there's an emergency, Jacob. I mean it."

Jake scowled but nodded. Bella leaned over the bed to give him a hug, careful of his bruises. "I'll be back tomorrow," she promised. "Be good."

He gave her the smile that she had fallen in love with, the one she saw so rarely these days — his beautiful, free, uninhibited smile. "Anything for you, Bells."

She rolled her eyes. "Don't try being charming now, Black."

His chuckle followed them out of the room. Billy wheeled down the hallway, and Bella gave him a little wave as he headed into his son's room.

She followed Sam out the front door and saw that Carlisle's big SUV was gone. He must have driven it back to his house.

Luckily she already knew Sam didn't live too far away, probably only about a mile walking since they could cut across the yards of other houses.

Sam was not a talkative man, and normally she wouldn't have minded the silence, but this situation was strange enough that she couldn't keep her mouth shut. "Are you sure Emily won't mind me just showing up on her doorstep?" she asked when she couldn't stand the silence any longer.

He glanced at her and nodded. "She'll just be glad to have another girl around. Don't worry about it."

"That's just what I do," Bella muttered, and she heard Sam's low chuckle.

"You're welcome to stay here as long as you want," he said unexpectedly. "On the rez in general, and with Emily and me in particular."

This time Bella couldn't stop from staring up at him. Sam was full of surprises tonight.

"I just don't want there to be any misunderstandings, later," he said. "You're welcome here. Multiple members of the pack would very much prefer if you stayed here, in fact." He said the last with a wry grin that seemed to be making a reference she didn't quite grasp.

She bit her lip, thinking. The only other people besides Jake who might care would maybe be Quil or Embry. Paul actively wanted her to leave, and maybe Leah, too. Seth was probably somewhat ambivalent.

And Jared? she wondered, rounding up her mental roster of the pack.

She didn't know. She wanted to, but she knew barely anything about him at all. He'd been the second to phase after Sam. He was Sam's beta, though Jake had told her once that he had offered to step aside if Jake wanted the position. He had a girlfriend, last she'd known, and Bella couldn't stop herself from wrinkling her nose at the thought. Bella had never met her, which wasn't surprising since Jared himself had only ever been around at the rare mandatory pack meetings she had been present for.

And he was smoking hot.

She jolted out of her reverie at that last thought, reminded of the flash of the feeling she wanted to pretend she didn't recognize but knew damn well was attraction when she'd almost run into him after the battle. She shouldn't be thinking of other guys like that. She had a fucking engagement ring, even if she had given it back to Edward for the time being.

Edward… She was dreading having to put up with him when she got back. He was going to sulk for days. She'd be lucky if he let her go anywhere besides their houses or school for the next month.

It was worth it, though, to come to La Push. After all, Edward couldn't come out here. If she'd wanted, she could wait him out here forever.

The aching tug in her chest was back, and she wondered if she should go back and stay with Jake after all. She'd left him only when she knew he'd be okay, though. She didn't understand why her body, or maybe her heart, was still convinced that she needed to be with him this second. She glanced to her right, into the woods, wondering if any of the wolves were still out there, if they needed to be now that Victoria and Riley and the newborns were dead.

She pressed her hand over her collarbone absently, feeling her heart beating. It wouldn't do that for much longer, if she changed.

"You okay?" Sam asked. He glanced from her to over her head, in the direction her eyes kept flickering to. To their right, into the forest.

"Yeah," she lied as she followed him up the front sidewalk to his and Emily's house and stepped inside when he held the front door open for her. "I'm fine."

Emily was sitting on the couch, already setting aside a long blue and gray scarf she'd clearly been knitting before they stepped in. Her eyes lit up, and even as she was hurrying to wrap her arms around Sam she turned her lovely smile on Bella.

"Bella!" she said sweetly, giggling as Sam peppered kisses all over her cheeks, "what a lovely surprise!"

"I'm sorry," Bella said uncomfortably. "Sam offered to let me stay here tonight, but I can leave if it's an imposition—"

"Of course it isn't!" Emily said immediately. "Sam stopped by here before he went to Jake's and told me what happened with you and J—" She cut off, darting a quick glance at Sam, and then continued smoothly, "With you and Jake. I figured you'd probably want to stay on the rez tonight. We're happy to have you."

"I need to phase and set a patrol schedule for everyone," Sam told them both before Bella could respond. "Be back in ten." He kissed Emily quickly and was out the front door a moment later.

"Let me get you something to sleep in," Emily said, gesturing Bella down the hall. "You look exhausted."

"Long day," Bella admitted. She still couldn't believe so much had happened in twelve hours. She'd barely slept last night until Edward had finally let Jake come warm her, but even then that had only been about five hours. She was an eight to nine hour a night type of girl.

"I'll bet," Emily said sympathetically as she riffled through a chest of drawers in the master bedroom. "Just remember, sweetie, that this will be a happy ending, even though it doesn't feel like it right now. I know Jake was hurt, but he's going to be fine. The whole pack is fine. And now, with… everything…" she trailed off before she turned back to Bella, handing her a tank top and loose pajama pants with a bright smile. "Everything is going to work out."

Bella couldn't hold back a weak smile. It was hard not to smile when Emily was smiling. "I always love your enthusiasm, Emily," she said. "I'll try to absorb some of it." Even if she had no idea how Emily could possibly be right.

Emily wrapped an arm around her shoulders and led her down the hall to another bedroom, this one sparsely decorated with a yellow quilt and an antique bed frame and nightstand.

"You should," she said with a laugh. "I know it's early, but I can tell you need to sleep, Bella."

"But—" Bella immediately protested, hating the idea that people were going to be out there making decisions, possibly putting themselves in danger, while she was asleep.

"Nothing is going to get decided tonight," Emily said soothingly. "Sam wouldn't meet with the Cullens tonight even if they wanted him to. We all need a break from them."

"I know the feeling," Bella said, and then almost immediately couldn't believe the words had come out of her mouth. She realized she was tracing her fingers along her collarbone again. The ache had settled into something that wasn't painful, but it was a little… hollow. She thought maybe there was something that could fix it, but the solution was just out of reach.

Emily's gaze had dropped to her fingers, and when she met Bella's eyes again, there was that same hint of knowing that Bella had seen in Sam's eyes. Maybe it was just that they knew that she was finally realizing how much leaving behind the rez and the wolves forever would hurt.

"Get some sleep," Emily said, patting her knee as she stood up again. "You'll feel better in the morning, I promise."

Bella nodded numbly. She wasn't sure if the ache was actually stronger or just that she was paying more attention to it now. It had that almost tugging feeling again, as if she had forgotten something important and needed to go find it. She almost thought she even had a sense of which way she needed to go to find it, but that was ridiculous.

"Thanks, Emily," she said softly, emotional as well as physical exhaustion threatening to pull her under.

"Of course. Goodnight, Bella," Emily said softly as she closed the bedroom door behind her.

Bella changed quickly and curled up into a ball under the covers. She pressed her hand against her chest hard, above her left breast. I don't understand, she thought, as if the ache would be able to answer her. I want to understand.

Was this a message? A warning?

Maybe she was just going crazy. It wouldn't even be that surprising; anyone would have cracked sooner or later, with the constant pressure she was under from being a part of the supernatural world that only a handful of people around the world knew about, combined with the constant threat to her life from some of those supernatural forces.

Hopefully things would look better in the morning. She was pretty sure they couldn't look worse. She wrapped her arms around herself more tightly, willing sleep to come. It finally did, but it was only when she felt the hollowness inside fade, fade, fade, until it was almost but not quite gone.

Then, exhausted, she drifted into sleep, hoping she would find answers in the morning.


ADDITIONAL AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic features a pretty strong imprint bond, which was inspired a little by When Darkness Falls (a wonderful dark Bella/Paul fic by La Vita Nuova) and a couple other fics I have read in the past few months. It takes some of the themes like those in that fic regarding the imprint, which involves not agonizing unendingly over the meaning/impact of the imprint bond and whether it's "real" or not. In this story there will be some definite exploration of the bond and how it can change the couple's entire life in both good and not so good ways, but it won't obsess over whether the feelings it creates are "real" or not. The wolf and imprint can choose what they believe and make decisions based off of it (just like in anything else in life).

This is also my first fic that I've written by writing a complete outline of the entire story first, then going to the very first bullet point and writing chronologically from there. Normally I skip around, writing scenes as they occur to me, but this time I am writing long scenes from the beginning to the end. It's an interesting exercise and I'm enjoying seeing how it affects my writing and whether this technique is working out to be more efficient for me.

On a final note, this fic is rated M for a reason and includes language and sex.

Thank you for reading! Let me know what you thought.